Festive fertilizer and a sustainable new year

Dec 18, 2019


Hope Randall
Communications Officer, DefeatDD

Photo source: BCN Confidential.


If I didn’t know better, I’d think it was an elaborate prank played by my colleagues. What are the chances that my work on diarrheal disease would follow me on vacation in the Christmas markets of beautiful Barcelona? If I’d done my homework on the Catalan Christmas traditions, I would have soon discovered that it was all but guaranteed.

At the Christmas Market in front of one of Barcelona’s oldest cathedrals, a stand with neon lights contained what I would learn was a beloved Christmas character: the caganer. Translation: the defecator. It’s an auspicious deposit onto many a Catalan family nativity scene.

“It’s not irreverent,” our tour guide is quick to clarify. In fact, it’s a sign of good fortune. Legend has it that there was a poor peasant who wanted to leave a gift for the baby Jesus, but he had nothing to offer, until an urge – and an inspiration – struck him. He reasoned that if he pooped behind the barn, it would fertilize the land there, honoring the place of Jesus’s birth with a fruitful future harvest. In this tale, a focus on nature’s call is not degrading, but a reminder of our interconnectedness with the natural world and our part in the circle of life.

Tree logs with smiling faces
If a defecating nativity character isn’t your style, consider an El Tió: the pooping Christmas log! Cover him with a red cape, hit him with a stick, then uncover him later after adding treats for the children.  


Don’t worry: it did not make me rethink our stance on open defecation! But it did make me even more appreciative of the sustainable sanitation solutions underway around the world: toilets that save water and safely turn waste into resources. As climate change threatens water and food security, and stands to worsen the cycles of infectious disease, I can’t think of a more important time to capitalize on the natural connections that sustain us. Happy Holidays to those observing! May we all seek sustainable ways to nourish the world so it can better nourish us in return in the years ahead.

Find more information on these cheeky Catalan traditions here.